With CSR conference, we want to encourage, influence policy change, says Onuegbu
Eustace Onuegbu is the president, International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (INCSR), a non-governmental and non-profit organisation set up with the aim to connect with corporate human rights advocates, CSR practitioners and sustainability experts in Africa to research, advocate and consult on best practices in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) aimed at achieving Sustainable Development in the entire region. Onuegbu is a CSR expert with several years of experience in Europe and Africa. He is an avid advocate of instituting global best practices in CSR in Nigeria and Africa in general. In this interview with ADELOWO ADEBUMITI, he spoke on the upcoming third Africa Conference on Business and Human Rights, challenges of CSR in Africa, particularly Nigeria and how to enthrone CSR best practices in the region for sustainable development.
What is International Network for Corporate Social Responsibility (INCSR)?
INCSR is a network of corporate human rights advocates, CSR consultants and sustainability experts working to promote or institute global best practices in corporate social responsibility in Africa.
What can you tell us about the upcoming conference?
The upcoming conference is the third edition of international conferences on Business and Human Rights in Africa. We started in 2015 with the first conference held at the University of Lagos. The second one was held in Calabar. This one is going to hold with support from a Canadian Research Institute called Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Canada. What we hope to do is to bring all stakeholders together to discuss the practice of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Africa. This is a Pan African Conference. We want to bring the business community, governments, NGOs, and the international community together to discuss CSR and its impact on sustainable development. There is a current United Nation (UN) agenda on sustainable development, which directly relates to the practice of corporate social responsibility, so if we are able to get all the experts and practitioners to discuss how best to practice and implement CSR policies within their organisations, both the private and public sectors will benefit from the initiative. And most importantly, get regulators, like the major stock exchange markets and the Central Banks to be part of this discussion, in order to introduce policies that will transform the practice of CSR in Africa. There was a bill on CSR in the National Assembly that did not succeed in the recent past. The late Senator Uche Chukwumerije who had a vision of making Nigeria a better place to live and work sponsored the bill in 2008. Till date, that bill may not have been properly reviewed.
What you are saying in essence is that part of the focus of the conference is to revisit the CSR bill?
Yes, the CSR bill is part of the focus of the conference, because we are discussing the entire concept of CSR. CSR in Africa is often practised as Corporate Philanthropy (CP), whereas the main components of CSR global practice are the Environment, Social and Economy. Therefore business has to be conscious of their impact on these three components. There is also ECG principles often used by stock markets and investors to evaluate corporate behaviour, which are Ecology, Social and Governance. These are the principles that need to come into play when you are introducing or implementing CSR/Sustainability policy for an organisation. Most of the organisations that practice in Africa, apart from South Africa that is a little bit different, introduced CSR policies as Corporate Philanthropy (CP). So when they go out to build a little road somewhere or healthcare facility, they would claim to be CSR compliant. A lot more needs to be done which includes the impact of your business activities on Environment, Social (which philanthropy is part of) and the economy.
In view of the foregoing, what do you hope to achieve with this conference?
What we hope to achieve is to educate and share knowledge with all stakeholders. That is why we have experts from around the world coming for conference. We have people from the United Nations coming and we are expecting others from Universities outside the country. We also have experts coming from other African countries and within the country as well.
Who are the speakers expected at the conference?
The first keynote speaker is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Oil and Gas Free Zoned Authority (OGFZA) Mr. Umana O. Umana. The second keynote speaker is Prof. Louis Meuleman, an expert on Governance and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the UN. We are expecting the Ambassador of Switzerland to Nigeria, Niger and ECOWAS, Ambassador (Mr). Eric Mayoraz, who is the guest speaker. Switzerland has done a lot on human rights and corporate social responsibility. So he is coming to share with us what they have done so far in Europe, particularly in his country to promote best practices. As we know, Switzerland also played a key role during the formation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights headed by Professor John Ruggie.
How many participants and organizations are billed to attend?
We have a number of organisations that we have already confirmed. The United Nations, the African Union which is chairing one of the panels at the event; we have the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) – they are sponsoring one of the panels. We are expecting the Nigerian Stock Exchange. We have banks, paper presentations from leading companies – Unilever, May and Baker, 9mobile, Oil and Gas Free Zones and so many others coming. So far, we have about 61 organisations that have confirmed attendance. We are also expecting about 200 participants in total.
Aside the discussion panels, what other activities are participants to expect?
Apart from the opening ceremony where we will listen to the key speakers, we have the plenary where we are going to get presentations from people like the senior special adviser to the Minister of Mines and Solid Minerals, academics from UN University in Ghana and lot of other people. We have Prof. Sam Erudo, Dean of the faculty of Law, Abia State University and a few other researchers from all around Africa coming to discuss the Intersection between CSR and Sustainable Development. The second day will start with a panel discussion to be chaired by the Africa Union, and then paper presentations from Centre for Sustainable Development of the University of Ibadan and other practitioners. After all these presentations and panel discussions, we have exhibitions. Companies and individuals that wish to promote and advertise their products will have the opportunity to display them at the conference venue in addition to brochure on website publications.
When is the programme coming up?
The event is coming up on November the 20 and 21 of this year at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja. The theme of the conference is “Exploring the Relationship between Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Development in Africa”.
What inform the choice of this theme for the conference?
CSR agenda in every organisation should aim to achieve sustainable development for the people. However, the practice of CSR is not in line most of the time with international best practices. Therefore, it is imperative to redefine the practice which will now facilitate sustainable development goals in Africa. If we are practising CSR in line with global best practices, you will see that all issues that have to do with sustainable development goals will now be aligned with CSR policies. When this is facilitated, we would achieve sustainability. We would achieve development.
Is the conference going to come up with a communiqué that would be given to organisations and governments on CSR and Sustainable Development?
That is why we have done our best to bring all the stakeholders together so that when we issue a communiqué, it would be authoritative. We are also going to have a recommendation of the panels, which is part of the conference. So the communiqué will be issued and the panel recommendations as well.
We are expecting some Senators and Honourable members – the legislature. We need their assistance to make some sort of policy change and introduce some new legislation in Africa. We have also invited the Special Adviser to the President on SDGs and the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment – Senator Tinubu, Embassies of other African countries are also invited as well, and it is not just Nigeria. So, how to introduce CSR global best practices in form of legislation or regulatory policies will be one aim of this gathering. The NSE which is the core market regulator for listed companies will be present to share with us their efforts in promoting sustainability as well as other major stock markets most of them members of the Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative. This will facilitate and encourage implementation of global best practices in CSR. Also, there is going to be teams working in different sub regions of Africa as a result of this Conference to implement and work with other stakeholders in order to encourage policy changes. So that by the time we meet again next year, we must have made good progress and have good report for all stakeholders.